August 1843-March 1844

The Collected Letters, Volume 17


TC TO JANE WELSH CARLYLE ; 21 August 1843; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18430821-TC-JWC-01; CL 17: 69-72


Scotsbrig, 21 August (Monday) / 1843—

A terrible battle against “bogues”: well done, Goody! Steep them all into destruction; it is a work that cannot be delegated!— The house seems to be getting into trim again; I begin to think I ought to be back there, and falling to some work again. The days are rapidly shortening now; there is no great fear of heat henceforth. Here, at any rate, I can have no continuing city.1

The Tailor has made me a fair stock of clothes; not much amiss at all. He is gone to his place, since Saturday night; but if I could find anywhere a little dark-speckled or black piece of stuff for a summer waistcoat, methinks I should still employ him; for these jane waistcoats, so beautiful when clean, need incessant washing; and all the other waistcoats I have are thick as house-doors, fit for frost and tempest only. Meanwhile here is a little job for Goody, if she like. Inclosed is a patch of one of the waistcoats (and pairs of trowsers) I have got; no buttons other than condemnable were procurable in these regions. Yellowish silk buttons were sent; twice as large as they ought to be; smaller, of any similar colour, existed not in Annan, Ecclefechan or Dumfries. Gilt metal buttons next came, with a detestable Prince-of-Wales feather2 etched on them,—bless the mark! Perhaps I ought to have acceded in spite of the feather? The buttons lie here in the drawer; and in despair (mindful of Goody I was determined to do my poor best), certain big mother-of-pearl shirt buttons, which Jenny had got for two new flannel shirts of mine, were taken—and they have a “bad effect.” There is the cloth; the buttons wanted are nine in number; let Goody, if she like, go up to Regent Street, and choose. Silk buttons of the due size and colour would do best, I fancy; but anything that pleases Goody shall be pleasant. A penny stamp, or at the utmost a twopenny one by return of post will frank the concern; on thursday evening it may arrive. Or, in fine, if you had rather not meddle with it, let the thing all lie there, and mind it no more till I arrive. Only, a small alteration being needful at any rate, and even another waistcoat being possible, I could make the Tailor free us of the business all at once. So much for the buttons. I think I will add one of the Prince-of Waleses (which need not be returned) that you may see whether it is admissible. Something whispers to my soul that gilt metal in any case looks too like one of Wrightson's philosophical groom[s]?3 I feel such a noble sartorial ardour at present that I could almost resolve to provide as many clothes as would last me to the probable end of all, and so deliver my existence from what is at present a real annual plague to it. O Fox, how wise was that one ever-enduring suit of leather; which at the due season would need only a new touch of Day-and-Martin, and vex the immortal soul of man no farther!4

I said we could not now continue long here. Jack for these two days is perfectly quiet, having Vittoria Accorombona to read! He is hidden today in the Linn, no man knows where. But, alas, it will end this night, and then we are a prey to all the elements. So far as I can discern, he has just one faintest vestige of a call anywhither for the present or the future: a visit to pay somebody at Darlington. He has already corresponded on the subject, and now again waits answer to some correspondence. Here too in some two days a couple of poor women cousins, in quest of health and change of air, are expected from Hawick!5 It will behove us to be gone. For me there will be rest nowhere; the best hope of rest now beside my own dame again, in our own poor house again, in the brick ocean tho' it be. I find I have just one trace of a work to do here, that of going to Puttock; it will take three days; I think of embarking on that, or abandoning it, straightway. Kirkcaldy and Keswick6 both together will be too much for me; I think I should prefer Kirkcaldy perhaps; but no word comes hitherto; no word in a day or two will amount to none for altogether. Jack rather would incline, I fancy, to go with me to the Keswick country: but it is beyond a single day's drive; and of Inns and their appendages I shall have enough otherwise. Travelling really has become a bore to me; it never was much else, but on that side I do believe I am getting old. Eheu [Alas]—I wish I had my Cromwell done: there is nothing else that will do anything for me! Existence is not very “joyous,” it is somewhat grievous even if it were not for the scantling of work one does manage to get done in it! Courage: work, that is blessed still, and lasts to eternity if it is rightly done.

A poor slut of a man, Jamie's next neighbour here, has a farm too dear, deficient stock, arrears of rent with all manner of sorrowful etceteras; and hangs of late years continually on the verge of ruin. He is turned of forty, a great heavy simple toilsome lump of nutbrown innocency; has wife and children, an old mother stone-blind who “milks all the cows”: his soul's first care is to raise £100 annually for Hogan of Waterside7 to buy port wine or whisky with according to the lex terrae [law of the land] as it at present stands. They can strip him to the skin at any time for past arrears, but prefer to let him struggle along “doing his best.” At this last rent-day he was nearly “out of his wits,” Jamie says. The corn he meant to sell was not ripe enough for selling; the bare bent [hillside], or the inside of a jail, his only other outlook. For ten days he rode and ran; “sleeping none,” or hardly sleeping, for ten days. By Jamie's help he did at length get the due £50 ready. He paid it duly; got on his “plonk of a work-horse” to come home again, had a stroke of apoplexy by the way, and arrived home still sticking to the horse, but unable to speak or walk, and has walked or spoken none since. What a joyous existence his and that old stone-blind Mother's! We are very despicable drivellers to make any moan. O heavens, can that be the task of an immortal human soul; catching apoplexy to provid[e]8 whisky for Hogan of Waterside? Je me suis dit un jour, cela n'est pas juste [I said to myself one day, that is not right]. No, it is not, and, by God's help, shall not be held so!

Our fiery weather is gone; we have it now windy, intermittent-sunny, and sufficiently cool. Lightning on Saturday night began to to gleam on us as we got home from Burnswark. Lightning, and then finally just about bedtime there commenced a lively universal battery of thunder, loud tho' still distant and far up in the air. Had it not been for the terror of Jenny and my Mother one would have called it very beautiful. The flashes were frequent, the whole black world gleaming with that greenish-coloured splendour, fiercely bright for one instant, was grand to look upon. But the fear was great; I could see that it was reckoned for a kind of piety to fear. Poor Isabella, Jamie reported, was “nearly dead” with terror. The ploughman had risen from his stable-loft, left his comrades all snoring, and gone down and sat by old Betty.9 The thunder went and came; it was two o'clock before we got to sleep, and left it muttering in the distance. The God Thor has no worship here now. He was “blowing in his beard” at a great rate on Saturday night, and hurling his Miollner (Smasher so-called)10 in a really remarkable manner.

Did I ever tell you that Alfred Tennyson has a Brother in the Dumfries Asylum?11 It is quite true; but we need not speak of it. I saw the poor young man on the street, a disguised Keeper walking in sight; Aird spoke to this Tennyson, naming him, that I might notice: a miniature polished edition of Alfred, like in his very voice, nay in his very turn of ideas and phraseology. He is at present perfectly sane: he told John since: “I am liable to terrible fits of drinking!” Great wits to madness are allied.12 We need not speak of this.

There was no Letter last night, and there can be none tonight; one cannot expect a Goody's Letter every night! I know not, for my own share, why I have written so copiously here; I get into the way of clatter, and it goes on.——— Poor Mrs Buller getting dyed blue,13 and not in the metaphorical sense! One is really sorry for so fragile a creature suffering with unquenchable spirit and gracefulness so much pain Write a word to her, and send my kind regards. Since Charles has gone thither, I conclude “Lady Baring” is gone abroad?14 Did Mazzini ever see more of her “here down”? She was to leave the vol. of the Miscellanies15 before going. We cannot remind her, if she forget. Those are the flowers of a great tree, huge tree of Aristocracy, literally so;—somewhat questionable they and it.— And we too are flowers, my Goody and I, elaborated out of several things;—and I kiss Goody, and will soon see her again. Adieu Dearest.

T. C.

The specimen button was fixed into its hole; but will not do,—makes a burble too great for the use it is of.